“The changes really change the feel of the car, but it doesn’t change its character," said Bourdais, who got his first taste of the extensive modifications to Daytona Prototypes on Sunday. “It’s a quicker car. I think we’ll gain about three seconds at Daytona. If we balance it, maybe there’s a bit more in it. The rear diffuser really helps set the back of the car down. These cars didn’t have much downforce before, but they have significantly more now."
The No. 12 Pickett Racing ORECA FLM09 was the lone Prototype Challenge (PC) car at the test and turned the fifth-quickest lap of the day overall at 1:58.035 (114.068 mph). The No. 93 SRT Motorsports SRT Viper GTS-R led the way in GT Le Mans (GTLM) at 2:01.619 (110.706 mph), and the No. 33 Riley Motorsports SRT Viper GT3-R topped GT Daytona (GTD) at 2:04.539 (108.111 mph).
A total of 2,819 laps (10,543.06 miles) were run over two days at Sebring. TUDOR Championship competitors will reconvene on Tuesday at Daytona International Speedway for another two days of testing.
PICKETT RACING EVALUATES PC CLASS, NEW DRIVERS
Muscle Milk Pickett Racing is looking for new worlds to conquer. After two years of dominating the former American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila PatrÂ¢n P1 category, the team rolled out a PC car for the test at Sebring as the first step in a possible three-class entry in TUDOR Championship competition.
Bryan Heitkotter and Steven Doherty shared the No. 12 ORECA FLM09/Chevrolet for the Sebring test. The lone PC at the session turned a best lap of 1:58.035.
“We’re here for car and driver evaluation, and we’re clicking right through our program," said team manager and engineer Brandon Fry. “This is the first time for both Bryan and Steven in a car like this, so we’re just taking it step by step."
The team raced this car three times in 2012 (although it didn’t own it at the time) at Sebring, Long Beach and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, and was running second in the PC standings before opting to concentrate on P1.
It’s also the first time at Sebring for Heitkotter, but the Californian is no stranger to steep learning curves.
The graduate of the Gran Turismo Academy bested more than 53,000 online competitors to earn a one-week shootout at Silverstone in 2011. There, he beat out 16 other finalists to earn a drive for the Nissan team for which he competed in Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge events in 2012 and 2013.
“It’s definitely a learning process," Heitkotter said. “We did some setup work yesterday, getting the car better, and getting more rear grip today. We’ve been taking baby steps, building confidence. This is a tough track to learn driving a downforce car for the first time, and it’s also the first time for the car at Sebring on Continental Tires. Plus I’ve never been to Sebring, either, so we’re taking it step by step. It’s been good so far."
Fry said the team will not be testing at Daytona, but hopes to have further announcements in the upcoming weeks.
ONE STEP AT A TIME FOR MUEHLNER’S PAIR OF GTD PORSCHES
Muehlner Motorsports took a conservative approach in the initial test of its two Porsche GT Americas at Sebring.
“We learned a lot about our suspension on Saturday," team owner Bernhardt Muehlner said. “After working on the car Saturday night, we concentrated on learning more about the brakes today."
Randy Pobst and Kyle Marcelli drove the team’s No. 19 car on Saturday, and shared time in both the No. 19 and No. 18 entries on Sunday. They will be joined by Porsche Supercup driver Norbert Siedler at Daytona.
“The GT America is a different animal," said Pobst, who is evaluating his plans for next season. “I’m really impressed with the paddle-shifters. It’s so nice, so easy."
ASTON MARTIN COMBINES EFFORTS ACROSS GTLM, GTD FOR TESTING
Aston Martin hopes for strength in numbers, as the team is combined its American and British efforts for pre-season testing at Sebring. The manufacturer will take the same approach in the two-day test at Daytona International Speedway starting Tuesday.
The factory team left its No. 007 Aston Martin Vantage behind following September’s FIA World Endurance Championship event at Circuit of The Americas in September. The two teams are testing side-by-side at Sebring and Daytona before going their separate ways to prepare for the 2014 season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona.
“They didn’t want to bring all their stuff over for the test, and they had left their car with us after COTA," said TRG-AMR owner Kevin Buckler. “We’re working together this weekend, sharing some resources and personnel with our cousins from England. They’ll have all their own stuff for the Rolex 24."
David Heinemeier Hansson did most of the testing in the No. 007 GTLM Aston Martin Vantage, and will be joined by Darren Turner and Paul Dalla Lana at Daytona.
“We’ve raced here many times," said Dan Sayers, Aston Martin Racing team manager and chief engineer. “We’ve got quite a good setup for here, and that allowed us to get a lot of running here without having to do much development. But Daytona is going to be quite interesting. We haven’t run a GT car there, so we’ve got to learn a lot, quickly. Two days isn’t very long, so we’ve got to maximize it with Michelin and get the tires to work. We’ll be learning a huge amount about that circuit."
For the American team, the test is another step for TRG learning the Aston Martin following a long and successful run with Porsches.
“We’re still trying to understand the mechanical side of car, and make it faster," Buckler said. “We knew the Porsches very well, but now we’re starting from scratch with a clean sheet of paper. What we really need is a big spares package – we had a whole trailer full of stuff when we ran Porsches."
FLYING LIZARD AUDIS OFF TO SOLID START IN GTD
Flying Lizard Motorsports spent the weekend in Sebring getting acquainted with its pair of Audi R8 LMS race cars.
One would think – given the team’s lengthy history with Porsche – that the Lizards would face a considerable adjustment period. That wasn’t necessarily the case, however, according to team manager Eric Ingraham.
“The thing that made it a bit easier for us was we transitioned to (the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila PatrÂ¢n) GTC last year, to a new car, to a new class, to a new way of looking at how the cars are technically inspected," said Ingraham. “Because of that, we’ve got some recent experience on some bigger framework changes.
“This year, it’s a new series, obviously, and there’s a lot to learn still about that. On top of that, it was going to be a new car regardless, whether it was a [Porsche GT America] car or the R8. With the R8, it’s actually been made much easier again by Audi’s communication with us, the information sharing, things like that. It’s a big task and a daunting one in a manner of speaking, but we’ve got the recent experience, which sort of helps soften the blow."
Like the team, Flying Lizard driver Spencer Pumpelly also has a long history of racing Porsches. He admitted that the past two days have been somewhat of an adjustment period, but he’s enjoying the opportunity.
“So far, I’m really pleased," Pumpelly said. “The car is fun to drive. It’s a lot different from a 911, which is good and bad. I’m so used to them, it almost feels like home, so I’m having to reevaluate some things I do in the race car. But at the same time, it is so much fun in certain spots of this track. I just love it."
Pumpelly and co-driver Nelson Canache Jr. earned three class victories and played a central role in helping Flying Lizard Motorsports take the ALMS GTC team championship. Both were testing with the team at Sebring, which bodes well for 2014. However, the team’s driver plans have not yet been revealed.
“The goal would be to announce the driver lineup for the full season and the (Rolex 24) before the Roar (Before The Rolex 24 test on Jan. 3-5, 2014)," Ingraham said.
ALEX JOB RACING FOCUSED ON TWO TEAMS, ONE MANUFACTURER
For the first time in a while, Alex Job Racing enters this year’s TUDOR Championship with two fully-funded teams, supported by one manufacturer. While Porsche has long been a part of the AJR lineup, the last couple of seasons have seen the team also support customer entries from a variety of other brands.
That changes in 2014 when AJR focuses solely on a pair of Porsche GT Americas in the GTD class.
“We’re back to where we used to be, back to my roots of having a two-car, Porsche-only team," said team owner Alex Job. “It’s a good thing for us right now because we have new cars this year and we’ve got to learn these new cars. I feel blessed to have a two-car program because having two cars gives us the ability to go in different directions and learn what these cars want as quickly as possible."
Cooper MacNeil and Leh Keen, who co-drove to the 2012 ALMS GTC championship, will drive the No. 22 WeatherTech Porsche GT America, while Ian James and Mario Farnbacher handle duties behind the wheel of an entry from Team Seattle. Although the two cars are separate customer entries, teamwork will be key in getting up to speed in what will be an ultra-competitive GTD class.
“We’re going to share everything. At the end of the day we are still competing against one another, but we know we’re going to be stronger with one two-car team," said Job. “I have to respect that they are two different customers, but we have agreed to work as one two-car team so the drivers, engineers and teams will share all of the data.
“There are a lot of new cars from different manufacturers in the GTD class this year, but we have strength in numbers at Porsche. We have to all work together to get up to speed as quickly as possible."
PROJECT LIBRA PARTICIPATES IN SEBRING TEST WITH AN EYE TOWARD 2014
After a year-long absence, Project Libra reacquainted itself with the North American sports car scene at Sebring with co-drivers Robbie Kerr and Nicolas de Crem sharing the controls of the team’s No. 15 RWB Vodka Radical SR9 in the P class.
The team is also expected to participate in the two-day test session at Daytona International Speedway on Tuesday and Wednesday, with an eye toward putting together a full TUDOR Championship campaign for 2014.
“We’re here to show that we want to be in the series," said Project Libra owner Ian Dawson. “We worked this year on commercial funding for people to come into the program. We signed up the RWB Vodka people earlier this year and we’ve had them positioned on two other cars as a management project. We’ve got another company looking at it now, who will come to Daytona. They’re very keen to come onboard."
Dawson noted that the team’s Roush Yates-powered Radical is a markedly different package than anything currently subscribed for the TUDOR Championship, and that is by design.
“The whole program is built around something different," Dawson said. “We need to be credible. That’s an important thing for me. I’ve been 44 years in this and some of it’s always been a bit experimental, but I think that’s always been the beauty of the series. It allows you to come in and try something. It’s important to give value to our people."
ACCIDENT MARS SUNDAY TEST FOR NGT MOTORSPORT
NGT Motorsport was hard at work Sunday afternoon repairing damage to the left-rear of its Porsche GT America after an incident involving Alex Mueller early in the day’s final session. Team owner/manager Ramez Wahab believes the damage is mostly cosmetic and the team will be able to make next week’s test at Daytona International Speedway.
It was already a busy weekend for NGT Motorsports, which took delivery of its Porsche Friday afternoon and turned its first laps Saturday. In fact, the new car has yet to even see team’s Miami-based shop.
“We didn’t have that much seat time because the car came straight from the airport to the track," said Wahab. “We never had the car at the shop, so yesterday was all about breaking in the car, breaking in the gearbox and the axles."
The lack of track time wasn’t a concern for Wahab, knowing that the first two tracks on the TUDOR Championship schedule are tracks the team has turned plenty of laps in the past.
“We’re not worried too much about lap times," he said. “The first race is Daytona and (Sebring) is really our home track. We’ll have other chances to run here."